Transformations through Learning

Transformative learning or the process of making meaning of one’s experience resulting in a ‘perspective transformation’, emerged from the work of Jack Mezirow and has been explored through numerous research studies and reviews over the last 20 years.

Understanding the basic concept of transformative learning is relatively straight-forward, but putting it into practice is much more of a challenge. It is a learning theory which is very difficult to quantify and measure, and actually know if a ‘transformation’ has occurred. The very subjective nature of the area has caused it to be highly critiqued, some saying that all learning is, in fact, transformative in nature, just of varying degrees.

Whether transformative learning exists as a truly different category of learning, or whether it is merely an aspect of the general learning process, albeit a more intense learning experience; what can be done is to create an environment where transformations of perspective are more likely to occur.  In most educational settings, transformative learning can not be ‘taught’, but it can be encouraged through deep reflective thought and becoming aware and critical of assumptions.

One of the key elements in providing an environment where transformative learning can occur is through discourse. Discourse involves assessing one’s own beliefs, values and feelings, and also that of others through open communication. The goal here is to assess the reasons behind one’s own viewpoints, critically examining those viewpoints and ‘testing’ them. After examining them from other perspectives and points of view, do they hold up in the mind of the individual? If they don’t, transformative learning occurs, creating a significant change in perspective.

From my own experience in the classroom, I find a lot of my college-aged students, who have quite strong viewpoints on issues, do not actually know why they have these viewpoints. Where did they come from? How were they formulated? Was it passed down from a family member? Read in a book? Seen on TV? I have found that many of my students have not really critically examined their own views and beliefs, but have simply absorbed them from others of influence or their environment throughout their lives.

To create an environment where transformative learning can occur in my classroom I encourage my students to approach anything with an open mind and willingness to listen. Listen openly to the viewpoints of others, critically examine their own viewpoints and have the ability to justify these viewpoints. In a new class, one of the first things I say to my students is that it is ok to disagree, be that with others in the class, myself as the instructor, or the teaching material itself. In fact, I encourage it, as long as they can justify their reasoning, they listen to the other side openly and they are always respectful. This openness creates a safe space to discuss differing points of view and teaches the class that it is also ok to ‘agree to disagree’.

Transformative learning experiences should be the goal of all teachers and instructors. The key element is creating the environment where these experiences can occur.

Making sense of how we use our brain

The human brain works in amazing but mysterious ways. It is our greatest asset and very efficient at processing a lot of information fast. In its bid for efficiency, it sometimes makes mental shortcuts to speed up the process. We rely on these shortcuts for all sorts of vital actions, such as walking and talking, but sometimes these shortcuts backfire on us and trick us, leading us to misunderstand information. To illustrate, read the passage below.


To explain this concept, Dr. Daniel Kahneman talks about the dual process theory in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, he theorizes that the human mind can be divided into two distinct systems; System 1 and System 2.

The dual process theory states every process has two sides to it. One is implicit and unconscious while the other is explicit and conscious. System 1 is the fast side. It is automatic, intuitive, and instinctive. System 2, on the other hand, is focused and calculated.


The dual process theory makes logical sense, as the video below illustrates in further detail, and it is important to understand this as an educator for numerous reasons. It is in our very nature to make mental shortcuts and this is beneficial to our overall existence. In the classroom, an instructor may get a wrong/odd/ridiculous answer to a question, that may not be well thought out, and this can sometimes be explained as an instinctive, reactive or distracted answer. I like to have an interactive class which relies on asking questions, involvement and interaction, so giving students time to really think and answer questions becomes very important. Quite often ‘System 1’ will give a reactive answer as it is making a mental shortcut to arrive at a quick solution. So giving learners enough time to think and consider information is essential for ‘System 2’ to kick in and really process the information.

The next important thing to understand is that the human brain can only really concentrate on one thing at a time and it is almost ‘blind’ to other stimuli whilst doing so. When ‘System 2’ is in use and takes over the brain it is very ineffective to introduce new information, it just won’t be processed effectively. Therefore, as an instructor, it is important not to introduce too much information at the same time. I have noticed in my classroom that when students are writing something down or copying notes they stop answering questions I pose to them. It’s too much for their brains to read, write, listen and speak effectively at the same time, as system 2 is working on writing, the other facets cannot perform properly. You can see this everyday from car accidents due to distracted drivers, to people walking into others as they text message.

To try and overcome this issue I now allow my students to have access to my visual teaching material so they don’t have to mindlessly copy notes and instead they can focus on listening and discussing the topic. More and more studies back up the notion that the brain isn’t very good at multitasking and the dual system approach helps explain why.

By examining the possibilities and limitations of the human brain we can plan, develop and construct better teaching methods to use our brains more effectively. An understanding of the fast and slow systems of the brain can help assist educators make an environment more conducive to learning.

Innovative ways to motivate adult learners

What makes you get up in the morning?  Why do some people go to church, while others exercise religiously? Why is that some can study for hours while others can’t even open the book to start? Motivation has been a topic of human intrigue since early humans first wandered the planet, that wandering motivated by the need to eat and survive. When brought down to its simplest form, motivation is what drives us to do anything, from eating, to praying, to reading.

The motivation for an adult to learn is as varied as the subject matter being learnt. It is extremely difficult to examine the complexities of motivation, as so many things intertwine to affect it. Maslow’s famous hierarchical pyramid is often considered the benchmark of motivational theories, but it also has its limitations as it tries to simplify something inherently complex.

In the hunt to find innovative methods to motivate adult learners, a European partnership called ‘Cremole’,  has been established. The word comes from a combination of ‘create’, ‘motivate’, ‘learn’. The organization released a handbook from educators across Europe to  find innovative ways to help motivate adults in various learning environments.

The handbook is based on research and evidence suggesting that conditions supporting the experience of autonomy, competence and relatedness foster the highest motivation and engagement in adults. These three pillars of adult motivation for learning can be demonstrated through; self-directedness (autonomy); ƒ shared ownership of training organization (autonomy and relatedness); ƒ active engagement in learning (relatedness); ƒ immediate applicability of learning (competence); ƒ recognition of learner achievement (competence, relatedness); ƒ supportive emotional environment (relatedness).

Based on these factors, numerous practical, innovative examples are provided in detail in how to motivate adults to learn. Examples include; ‘community mapping’, ‘stepping in the picture’ and ‘benefits and costs’. These activities provide methodologies for educators to provide stimulating, effective and motivating learning environments.



Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Creating a positive learning environment is a key step in classroom management. This is vitally important in adult education, as the characteristics of adult learners discussed in a previous blog here.

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan interviewed some of their professors in what they felt contributed to a positive learning environment. I will summarize some of their points below.

First, be yourself, as an instructor it can be thought better to ‘act’ in a certain way. Although professional behaviour is always expected, it is often better to be yourself, as this will effect how comfortable you come across as an instructor and students will notice this and respond positively to it.

Share your passion for the subject and show enthusiasm for what you are teaching. Enthusiasm is contagious and the more passion an instructor has for a subject, the more students show interest in the areas being taught.

Be prepared and have well planned lessons and structure to your lessons. What happens out of the classroom is just as important as what happens in the classroom. By being well prepared and structured ensures the best, most relevant information is shared and students will know what to expect throughout a course.

Reward participation by positive feedback. No matter what the comment, question or answer given by a student a positive comment should be made to make the student feel comfortable to make future comments. By enabling a ‘safe’ place where all participation is valued, whether it be ‘right’ or not, will contribute to a more engaged classroom.

Establish familiarity and comfort in the classroom by getting to know something about your students and also get the students to learn more about each other. By asking them questions about past experiences and sharing information about themselves they will feel more comfortable in class and with their classmates. Learning students names and addressing students by name will also contribute to a feeling of familiarity and comfort.

Taking a collaborative approach to instruction will also assist in creating a positive learning environment. Adults do not appreciate an authoritarian figure ‘preaching’ to them, or ordering them around. By taking an approach which values and respects the knowledge that an individual already possesses and building on this knowledge is an effective way to build a positive environment. Adults want to be treated as adults and it is important to understand this when interacting with adult learners.


Learning Partner – Discussion

I had the pleasure to have an interesting discussion with my learning partner Kelly, her link can be found here.

Although our instructional backgrounds are quite different, we had a lot of common threads in our discussion. One of these was the influence of technology in the classroom and the effects this has on learning. We have both had challenges with technology in the classroom and deciding what role it has to play. The most common issue being with smartphones as a constant distraction, which can often affect focus and concentration. Striking a balance between using technology and controlling it, instead of it controlling the user was the biggest challenge. This seems to be an issue across generations but even more so for the younger generation who have grown up with an internet-connected lifestyle. They often find communication without their phones difficult and which goes on to impact human, face to face communication which is still vital in the work and college environment. We have both had experiences when people were great at communicating electronically, through email for example, but in a face-to-face setting, it was often quite challenging for them.

It was interesting to talk to Kelly about her experiences in human resources and the finance industry where she has gained a lot of insight and experience into the recruitment process and corporate training. She discussed some of the trends in her industry including the impact of low mortgage rates on lending practices and the economic impact of the low oil prices and the subsequent layoffs in Alberta’s oil patch. Both of these areas have significant implications in the mortgage industry and impacts how she trains new employees in dealing with customers affected by these issues.

One of the major differences of our classroom environments was that Kelly is instructing adults who were being paid to be there, while I am instructing adults who pay to be there. We discussed this and how it impacts areas such as motivation, discipline and teaching styles.

Overall it was a very insightful discussion with Kelly, as we talked about our different learning environments, the challenges we face instructing and the trends in our respective industries.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

Adult learners have characteristics that often differ in the way they learn from younger learners. Malcolm Knowles is widely known as the pioneer of characterising this ‘non-traditional student’. Ryerson University’s learning and teaching office released a short handout summarizing the best way to engage the adult learner.

Adult learners wish to learn about subjects that interest them or will directly benefit their future interests. Without some form of interest, the motivation will often not be present for a continued effort to learn. Adults often want to know the direct relevance and application the material has to their lives. They want to know why they are learning what they are learning. This also leads to adults having a ‘problem centred’ approach to learning, where they want to be able to apply learning to real-world problems and scenarios.

As with a greater number of years of life, adult learners are also full of personal experiences and past knowledge. It is extremely important to use this knowledge in the context of learning and build from it. Unlike their younger counterparts, these extra years can make it more challenging at times to introduce new knowledge, if it conflicts with present understanding. But this past knowledge is also a treasure chest of information to build from, so the adult learner can often relate to information easier and make clearer connections with new material.

With this experience also comes greater autonomy and independence. Adults expect more flexibility and freedom in how to learn new material. They generally dislike autocratic instructional style and prefer a more collaborative approach. As adults are known to be ‘self-directed’ learners, they take responsibility for their own learning, as there must be the motivation for them to be there, this often comes in the ways of goal attainment.

Finally, but most importantly, adults want to be treated as adults, and therefore, fostering an environment of mutual respect is a key ingredient in creating a positive learning environment for the adult learner.

Based on these basic characteristics of the adult learner, I use a number of techniques in my classroom. First, I am constantly asking for participation and involvement by asking students questions about their past experiences and how it relates to what we are currently learning. Secondly, I always explain to my students why we are learning the material we are learning and relating it to real world examples and problems.  Thirdly, I always challenge my students to look at things with an open mind and from different perspectives, where they are free to disagree with me or course material, but they must also provide a rationale. Finally, we set class rules and expectations together on the first day of class, the only rule I add is, respect, at all times, with everyone.

Adult Learning




Adult Learning Trends

Humans never stop learning, although the focus is often on child development, adult learning is equally as important. Learning is a dynamic process and it is always being influenced by the society in which it takes place.  Some of the key trends in adult education for 2016 have been discussed by Doug Howard from the ‘Training Industry Magazine’.

The key thread in his article is the influence of new technology and science on the development of adult education. Understanding the many mysteries of the human brain and how training can be best taught and remembered is the first area discussed. The more we know about the brain through neuroscience, the better we can find ways to make it learn better and more effectively. While neuroscience is trying to find ways in which to improve brain functions, another science-based approach is on trend to aid learning, this time through technology.

Using the ‘cloud’ as a meeting space for the exchange of ideas and training programs has been an ongoing learning trend. This can be done in real time and accessed virtually anywhere an internet connection exists. The use of cloud technology can bridge gaps geographically and will make future learning cheaper and more accessible than ever before. When coupled with another key learning growth area, video, changes the learning landscape further still. Using video as a medium to teach and train has many benefits, including the aforementioned cost and time savings. The use of video technology will continue to rise and effect the learning landscape.

All this does not mean that human instruction and teaching is dead, far from it. The article explains the need for high-quality instructors who require relevant experience and expertise, as well as ongoing skill development to deliver training and being able to adapt that to the virtual classroom. The need for qualified trainers will continue to be of importance as companies continue to invest in training. Businesses are also more frequently outsourcing that training to third parties. With such a large portion of the training budget being outsourced, the growth of new training start-ups will rise.

A competency-based approach to program development is another trend the author discusses, by linking the real and actual competencies needed for a job and training in specifically those areas. Specific skills and competencies are becoming the driving force behind the modern workforce. As companies have more access to large amounts of data, they can more easily identify the exact competencies and skill set necessary to complete tasks effectively and therefore train for these competencies. This also links with trends in accelerated curriculum’s, learning skills in weeks instead of months or years, and the rise of alternative educational providers such as MOOCs. Recognizing these alternative training programs and credentials from outside the traditional college and university learning environment looks likely to become mainstream.

Approaches to training and education are always adapting, especially in this age of continued scientific discoveries, technological advances and general lifestyle changes.


Trends in Tourism Education

Taking a holistic approach to tourism and the education of future tourism professionals

Tourism has changed significantly over the past few decades. 2012 marked an important milestone in the industry, one billion people travelling internationally. The rapid rise of international tourism, especially in the last 30 years, has been a double edged sword for the planet. On the one side it has created jobs in communities around the world and has contributed to economic well-being for both developed and developing countries, while at the same time significantly contributing to climate change, putting increased pressure on finite resources and negatively impacting destination cultures and societies.

One of the many trends in the education of the future leaders in the tourism and hospitality industries has been ensuring that a holistic approach is taken in teaching the subject area. Business management, human resources, finance and marketing were once the mainstay of the field. This has changed markedly, as consumers and industry alike are looking for a more responsible way to conduct business and place higher consideration on the impacts tourism operations have on the local populations and the environments they serve. Today, alongside those basics of business, areas such as; sustainability (environmental, social and economic), cross cultural communication, and ethics are given equal importance and it is giving a more holistic approach to the field overall.

The change in the way tourism is taught will hopefully have significant impacts on how tourism is managed in the future. By having more of a concern for the impacts that tourism operations have on host communities and how to best manage them, while not only being concerned with the bottom line.  Tourism is unique in that it is an export consumed within the producing country and relies on having a pristine environment, social acceptance and cultural integrity, so by including these subjects in the curriculum it is really a win-win situation for the industry as a whole.

Tourism Futures Education Initiative: of Tourism

Why Tourism Matters

Photo Source: UNWTO –


If I had to describe myself in one word it would be “curious”. I am always asking questions, (but why?) and seeking answers and this is one of the principal reasons I have been drawn into the career I have today. For the past four years I have been teaching a ‘Travel and Tourism Management Diploma’ at a private college in Vancouver, Canada. I get to combine my passion for the world of travel with that of teaching and educating. I have also developed a 2 year ‘Tourism and Hospitality Co-op Program’ for the college, from the planning stages to its implementation, this program linked classroom teaching with practical industry experience. I am a strong believer in balancing the theoretical framework of education with its practical application, hence the name of this blog. I also believe that we never stop learning, it is a life long process whether we realize it or not.

I was educated and raised in New Zealand, where I received my degree in tourism management. As soon as I graduated I quickly set off on my quest to see as much as the world as I possibly could. I started off teaching in South Korea, where it allowed me to travel extensively throughout Asia for a number of years before undertaking a short trip to Europe, I ended up staying the next 5 years. I took guided tours throughout Europe, Russia and Northern Africa but did many other jobs, such as; food and beverage manager in Switzerland, opened a new bar operation and worked in hospitality and tourism in many areas and in many countries.

I ended up coming to Vancouver as part of my continued desire to explore and satisfy my inner curiosity. Canadian culture has many similarities to New Zealand culture; both being commonwealth countries, both with a very laid back attitude and both being overshadowed by a more powerful neighbour (which surprisingly has a significant affect on the people and the culture).

I also love the outdoors, another reason which drew me to Vancouver; hiking, biking, skiing, swimming. I love to keep fit and be physically active.  I also love photography, art, movies, culture and socializing with friends and family.   I am a strong believer in the balance of everything; a strong body, a curious mind and an open spirit.